Search engine giant Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) would hire several software developers to create new in-house applications (apps) for its Android operating system in a bid to counter Apple's App store.

California-based Google has begun recruiting software engineers, product managers, user-interface experts and others who have ideas for mobile apps, Wall Street Journal said citing people familiar with the matter.

Last week, Google said it planned to hire more than 6,000 employees this year. As of Dec.31, Google employed 24,400 full-time employees, up from 23,331 full-time employees as of Sept. 30, 2010.

Meanwhile, the latest hiring spree comes at a time when co-founder Larry Page is set to become the Chief Executive of the company in April, succeeding Eric Schmidt who will become Executive Chairman.

The new strategy could help Google to counter Apple Inc., which has over 350,000 apps in its app store, compared to 100,000 apps at Android market.

The apps market is set for exponential growth, with revenues from mobile apps set to exceed $15 billion this year, according to Gartner. Worldwide mobile application store revenue is projected to surpass $15.1 billion in 2011, both from end users buying applications and applications themselves generating advertising revenue for their developers. This is a 190 percent increase from 2010 revenue of $5.2 billion.

In addition, worldwide mobile application store downloads are forecast to reach 17.7 billion in 2011, a 117 percent increase from an estimated 8.2 billion downloads in 2010, according to Gartner. By the end of 2014, Gartner forecast over 185 billion applications will have been downloaded from mobile app stores, since the launch of the first one in July 2008.

Many are wondering if the app frenzy we have been witnessing is just a fashion, and, like many others, it shall pass. We do not think so, said Stephanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner. We strongly believe there is a sizable opportunity for application stores in the future.

However, Baghdassarian said applications will have to grow up and deliver a superior experience to the one that a Web-based app will be able to deliver. Native apps will survive the Web enhancements only when they will provide a more-personal and richer experience to the 'vanilla' experience that a Web-based app will deliver.

Google so far has created only about 20 mobile apps in house, and they are largely extensions of its Web properties, such as Google Maps.

Higher number of apps will not only benefit Google monetarily, but also will help increase the traction of Android and compete more effectively against Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Google's operating system Android now runs on over 100 devices with more than 300,000 activations each day, while Chrome has at least 120 million active users, according to a recent blog post by Google's Senior Vice President of Engineering and Research Alan Eustace.

Benjamin Ling, a Google product - management director, has been leading recruiting efforts, the Journal said citing people familiar with the matter.

Google has been trying hard to keep its employees who are being attracted by competitors like Apple and Facebook, which has at least 10 percent of ex-Googlers in its 2,000 people workforce. Last year, Google announced a 10 per cent pay hike for all its employees.